Reports reveal web of lies woven by Lauren McCluskey's killer

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SALT LAKE CITY — Melvin Rowland knew how to get what he wanted.

University of Utah police reports obtained through public records requests show the extent of the killer's obsession and manipulation — including how he coerced a co-worker into lending him a gun — leading up to the fatal shooting of Lauren McCluskey last year.

Just days before Oct. 22, Rowland told his former co-worker at Black Diamond Security he wanted to take his girlfriend, McCluskey, target shooting. That lie would lead to her death.

On Oct. 9, the track star and senior, 21 years old, had ended her relationship after a month of dating 37-year-old Rowland when she learned he was a registered sex offender and much older than he claimed to be.

Nathan Vogel, Rowland's co-worker, knew about the relationship. But he didn't know the dark turn it had taken, according to the report, until it was too late.

"Nate told me Melvin was obsessed with Lauren and that she was all he would talk about. Nate told me it was unusual to have a conversation with Melvin without him mentioning Lauren. Further in the interview, Nate told me how Melvin would brag about how submissive Lauren was, and how she would do anything he said," an officer wrote after speaking to Vogel.

On Oct. 17, Vogel, 21, had just gotten fired from his job and was discouraged.

"I had told (Rowland) about my problems and stuff like that he offered me $200, so he manipulated me using the guilt trip to use my weapon," Vogel said, according to the report. He loaned Rowland the gun, a 40-caliber Beretta PX4.

Soon after, Vogel got a call from hotel security at Little America Hotel that the gun had been found there with marijuana and Vogel would need to go in and claim it. Vogel retrieved the gun and Melvin then "talked him into giving him the gun back" and paid him another $200, the report states.

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The security director at the hotel recalled the gun being found abandoned in a room, along with 75-100 rounds of ammunition in a box. The security director lectured Vogel about the incident and urged Rowland not to borrow guns, police wrote.

Rowland was supposed to return the gun to Vogel after supposedly taking McCluskey target shooting. The night Vogel expected the gun back, Rowland told him he and McCluskey were stuck in Moab. Vogel continued texting him for days to get the gun back, but Rowland did not reply, according to the report.

Vogel told police Rowland's actions seemed "premeditated."

The investigation into McCluskey's death led to Vogel, of Millcreek, and Sarah Emily Lady, 24, of Mapleton, who is accused of illegally buying the gun for him, being charged in federal court in March with making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm and conspiracy.

The indictment does not allege Lady and Vogel were responsible for McCluskey’s death.

Lady and Vogel made false statements on the ATF form to circumvent Vogel’s background check and waiting period because Vogel wanted the firearm immediately, according to the charges.

The newly released police reports show Rowland's manipulations did not end with Vogel.

A friend told police he believed Rowland wore a "Deadpool" costume to a Halloween party with McCluskey.

The mask appears to have made another appearance when surveillance camera footage showed a man wearing a "Deadpool" mask lurking in and around her dorm building in the days leading up to the Oct. 22 shooting, the reports state. Witnesses also reported seeing a man matching Rowland's description wearing dark clothing and watching the parking lot near McCluskey's building.

Police later found the "Deadpool" mask in his vehicle.

Melvin Rowland (Photo: Salt Lake County Jail)
Melvin Rowland (Photo: Salt Lake County Jail)

After McCluskey broke up with Rowland, police have said he began harassing her and extorting her using intimate photographs and a variety of fake phone numbers and email addresses. To get the money from her, the police report shows he used a co-worker's Venmo account and a fake username.

She sent him $1,000 to keep the photos private.

During the time leading up to the shooting, the report indicates Rowland knew he was heading for trouble.

A supervisor from General Dynamics Information Technology, where Rowland reportedly worked, told police that he didn't show up on Oct. 15. The next day, he came into her office and told her he was resigning because he expected "to be in trouble over sextortion and that he knew messages were sent to the police," according to the report.

He told this supervisor he saw McCluskey's email correspondence with police because she had once logged into her email account on his phone.

Six days later, Rowland was waiting for McCluskey outside her dorm building.

A resident invited him in, the report reveals. Rowland spent time with the man, along with other residents who had seen McCluskey with Rowland but reportedly didn't know her well. He told them he was waiting for her to get back from track practice.

During that afternoon, witnesses described Rowland producing "a black drawstring bag" and asking if they could guess what was inside. One man guessed that it was a gun, and Rowland replied "yes," the report states.

A woman told police she wasn't concerned about the gun because he wasn't displaying it in a threatening manner and Rowland had told the group he was a Marine and had been deployed to Afghanistan.

One person reported overhearing Rowland say under his breath that he wanted to "know last names in case anything happened," police wrote.

Later that night, Rowland attacked McCluskey outside the building and dragged her into a car, where he shot her multiple times. Police found her body an hour and a half later.

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While a manhunt and campus lockdown ensued, Rowland called a woman he'd met on the dating app Bumble. She picked him up and they went to Zao Asian Cafe, drove to the Capitol and talked, and he convinced her to let him shower and wash his clothes at her house, telling her he'd just been working out, police reported.

While Rowland was at her house, the woman kept getting campus alerts and Twitter updates about the shooting and Rowland kept "looking over her shoulder and inquiring what she was looking at," the report states. He asked her to drop him off at a coffeehouse.

Once Rowland was inside, the woman stopped and looked at her Twitter feed, then called police, according to the report.

Rowland was found dead a few hours later of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot inside the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, 239 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (600 South), after being chased by police.

University of Utah officials ordered two independent reviews following McCluskey's murder into whether more could have been done for her. The review concluded that even if the campus police department wasn't understaffed, overworked and inexperienced, state and University of Utah officials aren't sure officers could have prevented the shooting, a finding the slain student's parents dispute.

After the shooting, the report reveals several women contacted university police to describe uncomfortable experiences they'd had with Rowland, including uninvited physical contact and strange conversations. Many of them said he'd been aggressive and "creepy." On different occasions, he'd told people he was a U. coding student, a military member and a U. basketball player. He'd used a variety of names, including "Logan" and "Apollo," the report states.

One of those women, who had exchanged a number of messages with Rowland before catching him in some of his lies and ending communication, told police "she just wanted to come forward and tell the police about her encounter with Melvin and how deceitful he was."


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Ashley Imlay is an evening news manager for A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.


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